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What’s next for Hall County employees after judge to rule in favor of county in pension lawsuit
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Judge Martha Christian listens to arguments Thursday, March 1, 2018, in Hall County Superior Court during the first hearing regarding the estimated $75 million class-action lawsuit on Hall County employee pensions. - photo by Scott Rogers

Hall County Sheriff’s Office Capt. Brad Rounds called it a “disappointment that you can’t describe in words” when he learned from the attorneys of the intended ruling in an estimated $75 million pension lawsuit.

Hall County Commission Chairman Richard Higgins and county attorney Bill Blalock said Wednesday, July 17, that Judge Martha Christian signaled her intent to rule in favor of the county regarding the lawsuit.

“You’re talking about the lives of over 100 employees and having the ability to take care of their families. Disappointment is not even a good word for it, more like a sick to my stomach feeling. We were hoping for the best. We thought that we brought a great case and brought a lot of evidence and thought it was going to lean our way,” Rounds said.

The lawsuit was first filed in January 2017, which the attorneys said originally involved about 70 current employees and about 30 employees that retired after July 1, 2008. The majority are first responders.

Hall County spokeswoman Katie Crumley said Friday, July 17, the total amount spent on legal fees by the county since January 2017 was $444,439.15. In March, that number stood at $330,400.

Rounds said the employees have crowd-funded the $35,000 retainer fee, and the depositions cost roughly $9,000. He said there has been discussion with attorneys regarding a potential appeal.

The change regarding the county pension plan happened in 1998, when plaintiffs claimed the county “froze plaintiffs’ accrued pension benefits and failed to make the required annual employer contributions to plaintiffs’ individual retirement accounts.”

At a May hearing before Christian, the defendant’s attorney Ben Mathis called the issue at hand a good faith attempt of a new plan thought at one time to be more fruitful for the retirees.

Rounds said he worries that this result without a change may be a “morale killer” for employees that may also scare away prospective applicants.

Sheriff Gerald Couch released a statement to The Times Friday, July 19, when asked what county leaders would like to do moving forward regarding retirement benefits.

“The deputies of the Hall County Sheriff’s Office deserve the pay and benefits that reflect their level of commitment to the community. Our administration at the Sheriff’s Office has worked diligently with the Hall County commission to move forward in that goal. Without diminishing the progress already made, I will continue to pursue additional compensation and retirement contributions for our men and women. For example, they deserve a retirement plan designed specifically for them. Law enforcement and other public safety professionals devote their lives to the betterment of our county. They view their work as a calling, with duties that are at times dangerous and life-threatening. I look forward to working with our partners in Hall County government to continue achieving more for those who protect and serve.”

Higgins said the commissioners have not discussed what they plan to do going forward.

According to the lawsuit’s calculation, Rounds would receive $2,567 monthly without the freeze on his benefits. With the freeze in place, he would receive $389 per month.

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